Complaints of Persistent Racism, Indifference to Claims Dog Elk Grove City Council Members

Betty Williams, President of the Sacramento chapter of the NAACP. | 
January 10, 2018 |

Although they were to discuss the findings and recommendations of a report on recent meetings held in the city on a spate of hate incidents, the Elk Grove City Council found themselves subjected to blanket criticism for their handling of race relations.

The item on the agenda was to discuss recommendations from the Mountain Valley Chapter of the American Leadership Foundation. The report from the ALF, who facilitated three community meetings and offered some suggestion, was presented by Assistant City Manager Kara Reddig.

Although Reddig's presentation included other specific recommendations that were not in the ALF report, the ten members of the public who commented on the report instead directed criticism at the council.

Elk Grove resident and political activist Amar Shergill, who also submitted a petition to the council requesting a host of recommended actions, said the city leadership still lacks the ability to deal with the problems. Shergill also pointed out that it was through the efforts of African American civil rights pioneers that individuals like council members Darren Suen and Stephanie Nguyen are able to have their positions. 

"Councilmember Suen, Councilmember Nguyen, myself, we wouldn't enjoy the life we have, you wouldn't enjoy those chairs and the seats, the positions you have, without the sacrifices of the African American community foremost for generations," Shergill said. "Yet we find ourselves here in Elk Grove, with the African American community taking the brunt of hate crimes over several months." 

One of the recommendations offered by Reddig during her presentation, a community advisory council convened by the Elk Grove Police Chief, is a derivative of one of the suggestions in the petition submitted to Shergill. 

The heightened awareness of racial problems stemmed from an incident at an Elk Grove African American owned business that was targeted with hate messages last summer. The issue again percolated to the surface over the Christmas holiday when a Pleasant Grove High School student posted a racist video message on social media.

Sharie Wilson, the owner of the business targeted last summer, also appeared before the council and said that while she appreciated the steps taken by the city and Elk Grove Police in the aftermath of the events, said the problem in Old Town Elk Grove persist.

Wilson said a local TV news crew unexpectedly appeared at her beauty salon today and she was confronted by angry neighboring businesses.

"I had neighbors in Old Town rush out from there store to tell the news that I put that note on my door," she said. "This is what my neighbors, the coin shop, on Elk Grove Boulevard, the antique shop two doors down from me, are spreading across Elk Grove."

Referencing the recent social media incident, Wilson said, "I hope you believe that it is real now." Wilson said Old Town and Pleasant Grove High School are hubs of racism in the city. 

Also speaking about problems at Elk Grove schools was Tracie Stafford who said her four children had experienced racist incidents at Elk Grove Schools and the city council needs to understand that for African Americans "this is our normal."

"All I am asking you is when we tell these stories, believe us," she said. "We have no reason to lie about this, and the price of admission for being an African American mother, children is to suck it up, suck it up, so we can live in a wonderful neighborhood."

Stafford also took the opportunity to address an incident that dusted up on social media this fall following a confidential email she sent regarding the time and location of one of the community meetings discussing race relations. That particular meeting was held at the Pavilion building at Elk Grove Regional Park, which for cultural reasons Stafford said could be viewed as an unsafe place for African Americans. 

"At least one of you [council members] printed that out and ran around showing people," she said. "As though this was something to laugh at or ridicule."  

Regarding policing and civil rights complaints, Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento chapter of the NAACP said of the law endorsement agencies her organization receives complaints about, Elk Grove tops the list.

"The number one complaints when it comes to civil rights and discrimination comes from the Elk Grove Police, she said. 

Regarding the complaints, Elk Grove Police Chief Bryan Noblett said he has tried to reach Williams on numerous occasions to discuss matters.

"I am open to the discussion, we have never had one," he said.

Along with the recommendations to form the police chief's community advisory board, it was also suggested that there be implicit bias training for city staff and the formation of healing circle.

During council comments following public comments, the council members (Mayor Steve Ly was absent) uniformly condemned the actions made by the Pleasant Grove High School student and acknowledged the concerns expressed noting the resolution to the problems will take time. 

Nguyen said that she disagreed with comments that the council did not care nor believed their remarks. 

"I don't think anyone here on this dais has said that we didn't believe or didn't think it happened, which why we worked with the community on the town hall," she said. "We are looking to the community for some help, we are looking to all of you to see what you feel be best for our city here."

Suen, who was conducting the meeting also said the solutions would take time and involve many parties including the Elk Grove Unified School District. Additionally, Suen referenced the city's Multi-Cultural Committee as being crucial in the proceedings.

"I envision the multi-cultural committee taking a greater role, being a forum," he said. "And building a container to have these honest dialogues, difficult conversations, without judging each other." 

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